I was reading about Lutheran doctrine regarding the Law and Gospel, however, I'm having a hard time understanding to what the "Law" is referring.

I found this quote by Martin Luther:

"Hence, whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture."
Dr. Martin Luthers Sämmtliche Schriften, St. Louis ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), vol. 9, col. 802.

It sounds like the Law and the Gospel are taken separately and both enforced equally.

Part of my confusion with this is that when I hear "Law" in relationship to the "Gospel", I think it is referring to the Old Testament laws.

Is this "Law" of ("Law and Gospel") referring to the Old Testament law? If so, do Lutherans believe that these Old Testament laws should be enforced as equally as the rules set forth in the New Testament?

  • 1
    "I'm having a hard time understanding the distinction" -- I think that is the point of Luther's quote: it's not easy. Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 20:00
  • @JoelCoehoorn It's not the distinction between the law and the gospel, but rather the distinction between the "Law" of "Law and Gospel" and the "law" as in "Old Testament law". I've updated the text.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 20:07

1 Answer 1


Speaking as someone who went to a lutheran seminary, let's attack these questions one at a time, shall we?

Is this "Law" of ("Law and Gospel") referring to the Old Testament law?

The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord says in Section V "Law and Gospel"...

Anything that preaches concerning our sins and God's wrath, let it be done how or when it will, that is all a preaching of the Law. Again, the Gospel is such a preaching as shows and gives nothing else than grace and forgiveness in Christ, although it is true and right that the apostles and preachers of the Gospel (as Christ Himself also did) confirm the preaching of the Law, and begin it with those who do not yet acknowledge their sins nor are terrified at [by the sense of] God's wrath; as He says, John 16:8: 13] "The Holy Ghost will reprove the world of sin because they believe not on Me." Yea, what more forcible, more terrible declaration and preaching of God's wrath against sin is there than just the suffering and death of Christ, His Son? But as long as all this preaches God's wrath and terrifies men, it is not yet the preaching of the Gospel nor Christ's own preaching, but that of Moses and the Law against the impenitent. For the Gospel and Christ were never ordained and given for the purpose of terrifying and condemning, but of comforting and cheering those who are terrified and timid.

For Luther, the "Law" was anything that stung the conscience of its own sins against GOD and neighbor, while "Gospel" or "Grace" was anything that communicated the love and forgiveness of GOD.

If so, do Lutherans believe that these Old Testament laws should be enforced as equally as the rules set forth in the New Testament?

Lutherans believe that not all Old Testament laws should be enforced equally, but that there is a timeless truth behind each of the laws that can be applied to today's context. For further information on this please see...

The Epitome of the Formula of Concord section VI entitled "The Third Use of the Law"...

VI. The Third Use of the Law.

1] Since the Law was given to men for three reasons: first, that thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men [and that wild and intractable men might be restrained, as though by certain bars]; secondly, that men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins; thirdly, that after they are regenerate and [much of] the flesh notwithstanding cleaves to them, they might on this account have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life, a dissension has occurred between some few theologians concerning the third use of the Law, namely, whether it is to be urged or not upon regenerate Christians.

So, for Lutherans the Law has three purposes, 1) restrain evil 2) show humanity its evil and 3) as a guidebook for how Christians ought to live in grace.

I hope this helps!

  • This makes perfect sense to me. I was getting hung up on the idea of the "Law" in direct correlation to the Old Testament Law. This makes perfect sense. Thanks!
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 20:09
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    This is a great answer. You break down the issues involved, give factual statements about the doctrines involved from the perspective being questioned, provide references and show how they fit together to answer the question. A+ and keep this up.
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 20:36

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